Saturday, September 26, 2009
THE BIG E
I know I know I know…it’s not considered “THE BERKSHIRES”, but I have to talk about West Springfield’s The Big E because I look forward to it more than any other event in Massachusetts.
The Big E is actually The Eastern States Exhibition, which is the 6 New England States having a huge “combined” State Fair. Held every year, it falls around September 18-October 4, so you still have time to go.
Getting there from The 1896 House is easy…take rte 7 South to 20 East (the Pike) and get off at Exit 4, then take rte 5 South and follow the signs to the Big E. May take about an hour or so to get there, but it is SO WORTH IT. Set aside one full day for this event.
Go anytime Monday through Thursday, but NEVER go on the weekend. NEVER. The prices are higher for both parking and admission Friday-Sunday and the crowds are mindblowingly big. You miss a lot by people pushing & shoving in front of you, but the worst part is, you give up trying to see the booths/exhibits because you cannot get near them and you wait a much longer time in line for food.
The local neighborhood offers up their backyards to fairgoers for parking at a cheaper price than the Big E official lots, so I highly recommend the locals. I have found great luck and prices on Heywood Ave. GOLDS GYM is on the corner. It's an easy landmark to find your car when you are tired. It costs from $2 to $10 to park and this puts you near Gate 4.
This fair is HUGE and can be overwhelming, so note my route and see more of it without getting lost on your own.
Go into GATE 4, (pay $12), then take a right and go down that first row of shopping booths (the animals will be on your right). Enjoy the shops, food stands and animal acts along the way as you head towards the STATE BUILDINGS.
Many of these shops have been here for years, such as the leather store, the linen place, the dinosaur piggy banks,
mini log cabins with water wheels and smoke, my fav Milk n Quackers shop, the funky tropical animal and wooden mask shop (great instruments too)and the jigsaw black cardboard decorations.
There are a few new ones this year,
like the bellydance clothes & scarves,
lamps made from booze bottles,
and jellyfish glass globes.
and more artists than I have ever seen here before.
There is a live (and probably highly drugged) elephant (and a camel) to ride,
a petting /gawking zoo with goats and donkeys and a few exotic animals ...(huge emphasis on washing hands after feeding and petting them),
and this year you can pose for a photo($10) with 2 live sea lions draped over your shoulders at the Sea Lion Splash Show booth! They also put on a show a few times a day.
"Arrr Arrr! Fwap Fwap!"
There is a Circus Museum with miniature replicas of old tyme circus travel, set up and action figures. Kinda dull for me, but model builders will appreciate all the details and historical content in this display. The music alone is enough to drive me bananas.
You definitely want to avoid buying heavy stuff early in your visit, but if you cannot resist, there are vendors selling $20 rolling carts which will help ease the burden, or they will hold your purchases until you are ready to leave for the day and pick them up.
MY GOOD ADVICE: If you see something you like, WRITE DOWN WHERE YOU SAW IT and the nearest landmark, so you can find it later to buy it just before you leave.
Your goal is to get through the 6 STATE BUILDINGS. Each state building is a replica of the real one and contains “stuff” from that particular state. Grab a road map at each entrance, and ask questions, as the folks manning the booths are eager to brag about their state.
Businesses and food booths line the insides of the buildings, and out in back of each are more booths, so remember to go behind each building. There is stuff between the buildings as well.
Out front are shrubs, flora and trees popular in that state. I love the oddly pruned tree over by RI for its great shade from the blistering sun and heat.
There is usually a band or other small act going on in front of the state buildings. There was a jazz band playing, a Mark Twain impersonator talking on a mike, a big woolly monster walking around for photos, a “mechanical” man and a trampoline act when I went.
The VERMONT BUILDING is a great start to the state building tour. After grabbing my road map and some tourist pamphlets, I headed for the CABOT Cheese stand, where a kind lady gives samples of about 6 cheeses, and there are a million oddball types you can buy, but remember you will be walking around for 4-6 hours and that is not good for dairy... Try the horseradish cheddar if you dare.
Ben & Jerrys adorns the back wall, but I held off until later in the day. I LOVE LOVE LOVE their Butter Pecan.
Green Mountain Coffee had some well appreciated java offerings,
and there was the infamous stone oven fire cooked pizza near the end.
The Vermont Store within the VT building has a terrific assortment of items from all over the state.
I got a cute wooden owl, debated getting a pair of maple leaf earrings
and loved the paintings they have for sale. Last year, I bought a moose nightgown. Oops, TMI.
Git yer quality plaid here Farmer Joe!
and there is a wonderful soap and hand lotion booth I go to every year. They are organic and smell wonderful.
The MASSACHUSETTS BUILDING had parked police vehicles right next to the lottery tent on the side. This is the only good situation to be this close to them. (BTW, don’t try to run the siren or open the car doors to check out the inside dash…they get real mad).
Massachusetts Lottery is a very crowded spot all the time!
There was the braided rug booth (great deals!),
the Finnish Pancake stall (yummy with maple syrup),
lobster rolls from the Cape, super T-shirts and Sweats,
and a great Cranberry Harvest display with old machinery set up and a video playing on how cranberries are processed.
Amongst the stands of fruit cups, fudge and apple crisp
were several Federal agencies with charming news about Swine Flu, State Police warnings and rules, horned beetle scares, and disaster info.
Pittsfield Bread sold loaves (or bagged slices) of their wonderful rye,
and Park Rangers were there talking about the Park Passport program for kids (see my Natural Bridge blog).
The honey bees hive & products are always popular, and everyone tries to "find the Queen!"
There was maple cream mixing up in one farm booth. Free samples too! YUM.
The talking cow and the dairy bar are a favorite stop of mine. A great milkshake can be had here! Everything tastes so good at this fair!
The MAINE BUILDING holds fun products and delicious foods from the northernmost NE state.
You are always met at the entrance by a fabulous jewelry or magnet stand and this year it is Celtic silver jewelry.
I love BOBS Sugarhouse…they always have a well organized booth of goodies at very fair prices.
If you have never tried maple cotton candy, you need to! It’s nothing like that sticky blue stuff we tore thru as kids…try it and you will like it…trust me on this.
The Wicked Whoopie Pie people
had a great stand, with these whimsical, slightly naughty T shirts. I was tempted to buy one, if only to use it as a nightshirt…
The wood turnings, chairs and wooden things sold here are wonderful quality and workmanship. It smells so good going thru the booth too!
There are great warm fleece clothes to buy and they do their best to gear you up for cold weather and ski fun, but it’s hard to get in that groove when it’s 78 ‘ outside.
Maine is famous for blueberries, so get in line for a warm piece of blueberry pie with some homemade vanilla ice cream!
There is also a bin of live growing berries, and you can get info about how good they are for you.
I see it every year and it boggles my mind…people standing in hour+long lines for a MAINE BAKED POTATO…granted, I LOVE baked potatoes, but not these…I had one years ago and hated the fake cheese on top and it was over priced ooooo and that awful long line…not worth it! Getting Hungry? Don’t buy lunch here...the best is yet to come!
Not to play favorites, but the CONNECTICUT BUILDING is the best every year! The industries are so cool! LEGO always has a great booth and clever figures made from legos…This year is SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS. (Last year, they had a great Harrison Ford -Raiders of the Lost Ark).
Lego also has a play table where kids can take a fun break and play with lego.
PEZ is also in CT and you can find virtually anything as a PEZ dispenser and neat oldie vintage ones are for sale as well.
Time for a TIMEX watch? I get one every year. Buy one with a friend and save about $3 each for 2.
This was the year for Authors of books…CT had Big Tractor Mac out front, and these 3 authors inside.
In back, there was a life size dinosaur from the Dinosaur Place, gracing the backyard grounds, and a nice display inside with a motorised stegasaurus in a cage.
My favorite "behind the buildings store" is PINE SHOP, which has loads of those funny saying signs. I picked up “Money cannot buy HAPPINESS, but Poverty cannot buy ANYTHING!” framed desk plaque. You can get nice pine cabinets, trashcan holders and shelves, as well as potpourri and knick knacky things. They had an annex across the way with Christmas decorations in it,
and a lady was selling bulbs for autumn planting.
Don't forget your Pumpkin Ice Cream Sandwich Wheel!
I always stop by the CT Police stand (usually some cute officers lurking around) to pick up this year’s orange cardboard SEND HELP sign to keep in the trunk of the WonderCar.
Next building...NEW HAMPSHIRE and they also have a terrific maple stand
and woolen clothing and wraps,
but I go gaga for the pottery at Ripple Potters.
They had a wood turning demonstration and beautiful wooden bowls and spoons.
I loved the dog collar booth.
Stay outta my way if there is a fudge booth with freshly made chocolate nut getting sliced up! A hunky piece was only about $4.
The RHODE ISLAND BUILDING is the last in the line up. Their front displays are usually top notch.
This year, they had detailed pumpkins.
I love their chocolate triple dipped apples (some with crumbled oreos or M & Ms on them) !!
and I always get a Dels Lemonade slushy.
Kenyon’s Crabcakes and Chowders take up the corner, and the fresh seafood from the back booth fryers is outstanding.
Rhode Island is known for jewelry, so there is a large jewelers and a machine that actually makes chain links right before your eyes, and the chain lands in a bucket below the machine.
The Save The Junkyards booth is well worth a looksee before you exit.
If you are getting hungry, check out some of the booths outside… there are fancier "indoor" eating places in the church at Storrowton Village, or the Firehouse, or the Knights Building.
There are oodles of stands for fast food like corn dogs,
caveman-like turkey legs, steak bombs, pieroghies, sausage n peppers,
french/curly fries, pizza, BBQ, chicken, Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Chili, Italian, Soups, Seafood, Greek, Salads, Fried Veggies, and a plethora of other culinary delights.
There are coffee stands and Smoothies everywhere,or a homemade root beer served in a tin cup from the chuck wagon, apple cider, lemonade, milkshakes, and sody pop… oh, and water too for the more boring amongst you. I don’t even want to begin to tell you about all the desserts on the fairgrounds…
Across the street from the state buildings is the GRANGE Building. This is a great place to stock up on Quince Jelly (just kidding, but they have it!), a new potholder or scrubbie,
a handmade quilt, some new mittens or a baby outfit or crochet crazy square throw.
There is always a handmade this n that to buy and it is always reasonable. I scored a hanging dishtowel-potholder combo for $4.50, and a scrubbie for $1.25. There is a yearly raffle for an amazing quilt. Proceeds this year go to the Vet Hospital in VT.
Outside the building on the steps, a Fife & Drum corps play the familiar strains of “Yankee Doodle” to a dazzled crowd. Neat historical uniforms, if nothing else floats your boat.
The next building over is the Sam Adams Micro Brew House Garden, where you definitely can enjoy a beer...
and right behind that is Storrowton Village…a text message version of Sturbridge Village.
The wood turner is the crowd favorite, and there is an historical house with costumed folks walking around telling you all about their old fashioned lives.
There's a blacksmith, lawyer circa 1800s, paper hanger, quaint old fashion shop that has wine tastings in the afternoon, a gentle harp player outside, a cool potter, broom maker, and much more.
There was a high school band performing “Lady Marmalade” on the main green in the center. A toe-tappin treat.
Behind the Storrowton Village is Craft Common, where a fancy indoor and outdoor grouping of higher end crafts awaits. Jewelers, clothing, wall plaques, photography, a florist, flutemaker, elves, paintings, puppets, scenters,
and a great Coin Cutter who makes jewelry from coins.
There is a wood signmaker, pet supplies
toymaker, a country gifts store, and candles.
The COLLISEUM usually has a horse show or sheepdog trials (each day the schedule is different) and is free. Always interesting and fun. I love to go on the Sheepdog Trials days.
The INTERNATIONAL PLAZA (Young Building) is always fun. Hang onto your wallet, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!
This is where they house the unique “Event” of the year. One year it was all the Rockwell Post covers and models, another was an Egyptian Display of artifacts…this year …
BOND, JAMES BOND
Well, two of them…from the 1960s. A short film shows an incredible spiral turn made by one of them in Man With A Golden Gun. A stunt that has never been duplicated to this day. All the motorheads interviewed in the film wipe tears of emotion as they describe the fascinating techno-mechanical miracle…the driver apparently took the secret of this great spiral turn to his grave. (dang).
The INTERNATIONAL PLAZA is mainly where you can gawk at stuff from around the world…unique items,
especially from Asia, India and Peru…
But the Irish have the biggest chunk of the space in here. You can buy anything IRISH
…even have a drink in an Irish Pub! (and you will need it by now).
I enjoy the lady who plays the Dulcimer and the nice cable sweaters and walking capes. Nice jewelry too and maps of Ireland, Crests, and music CDs.
Other noteworthy booths are the Egyptian Papyrus art, Grandfather Clocks,
Indian scarves, jewelry and textiles,
beautiful Embroidery “paintings”,
and the Peru booths with the panpipe music and colorful yak sweaters (or whatever animal it is).
There is a wide variety of worldy goods,
but it is getting quite infiltrated with USA/China-Cheap/Billy Mays TV wonder items, like sham wow, slice n dice, wonder glue and car scratch remover. Lots of cooking stuff too!
This International Plaza often gets confused with the other big sales building known as the BETTER LIVING CENTER, having many of the same products in both places.
BETTER LIVING used to be all those USA products …siding, bathtubs, mops, ladders, gutters, flagpoles,
wood and pellet stoves, swimming pools, bedding and hammocks. Now there are handbags, delicious food and fudge,
and cool toys!
Star player this year?
The bubble gun!
Scrapbooking fanatics take note,
and ambitious young Asian fellows want to give you a massage.
I love the mineral and rocks booth,
The Polish pottery is terrific, and the Euro Bakery pastries are to DIE FOR.
You can even find a BEEF JERKY booth!
Outside to the shopping aisles and foot court walks, there are tons of portrait artists, silhouette cutters,
photo booths (sit in a big chair!), and places you can get a custom T shirt, License Plate, or your handwriting analyzed.
You can buy a snow-blower, hot-tub, Pellet Stove and tool shed, but in the 80 degree heat, none of this looks remotely enticing.
You can enlist in the military, get your kid ID’d, or just sit on one of the many benches and delete the lessor quality pictures off your SD Card to make room for more because you ran out of room on your camera…
I also managed to find a “designer handbag” booth for a great looking knock off. Kate Spade is not to be found anywhere near here though…
New to the Big E this year is The LOreal Tent of Beauty…
It's a huge hair and makeup salon-booth, but they just talk and sell stuff, they don't do your hair. Go in with questions and ask for analysis sheet or they will ignore you. I managed to get a couple old lady face cream samples from quite an aloof snippy sales gal, but was later fawned over by a delicious young “out there” man in the hair division and got meself a free tube of hair moisture gunk and felt a whole lot better about the place.
They sell makeup and hair stuff in the LOreal booth, but not for as cheap as the CVS has it, and carrying less is BETTER at the fair.
Back out into the real world, I headed for the NEW ENGLAND CENTER, which houses the 4-H club booths, some hokey clogger or line dancing acts, agricultural groups, and all the country fair type crafts on display… unbelievable photography contest winners, amazing quilt winners, knitted and crochet work, embroidery, jewelry, dolls, etc. Ham radio club, Girl scouts, Cub scouts…and…THE CREAM PUFFS stand!
Be still my heart…wait until later.
Time to check out those carnival rides!
If you have young children, there are plenty of “mild” rides for them (and you) to enjoy.
Older kids will love the heart- stopping, stomach churning big rides, but they don’t get popular until much later in the day and most are not operating, as the teens who ride them are supposed to be in school...
You can take a sack ride down a big yellow slide for a quick WEEEEeeeee.
Take a chance and win a prize at one of the many games on the midway.
Piles of large animals and cartoon characters hang above them, but you have to build up smaller prizes and trade up to them…
I’m reminded of Steve Martin in THE JERK when he was a game barker “you win anything between this cigar and this wooden pencil”.
Might be better to just buy one and get what you want.
Off to the C BARN, where FARM-A-RAMA awaits...
You can watch chicks hatching, milk a fake cow,
see prize winning vegetable art,
and the Clydesdale Horse stable.
They are usually suiting up one of them, or un-suiting them several times in the day. The bulldog that rides on the Bud wagon, Harley, has a doghouse there.
I lucked into seeing a horse enjoying a bath at the side of the barn.
I always enjoy the singing vegetable show, wondering if I'll get spit at by the llamas, and looking at the largest pumpkin contest winner.
Feet getting tired? Try one of the foot massagers lining the gate areas…after you stop laughing from the “tickle”, it actually feels good…until you get up and start walking on the cement again.
The MALLORY BUILDING is set way in the back and is easy to miss amongst all the snowplows, live christmas tree farm, action and excitement of the rides and barkers, but try to at least go in and see the large encased butter sculpture. Every year, the Dairy Association has an artist carve into a huge block of butter, some image of a cow. Last year, a calf and cow were playing baseball, another year, there was a cow on a motorcycle. This year was a fabulous barnyard scene.
The Big E is also a place for farmers and breeders to meet and trade. There was a steer auction when I was there.
The rest of the Mallory building has sheep shearing demos,
and a WAY funny refridgerator with singing dairy products,
lots of cow and sheep stalls, piles of poop to dance around, and an interesting aroma wafting throughout. I sure know how to live it up!
Competitions for best 4-H animals are done in one of the larger rings. Very “animal farmy”.
At 7:30pm, there is a big Mardi Gras parade and people throw shiny beaded necklaces from huge floats. The floats are made in New Orleans. I find myself screaming “Me! Me! Send One Over Here Man!!” like all the 10 year olds standing around me trying to catch a necklace or two. The "necklace" does not signify what it does in New Orleans, btw. (nod nod wink wink).
The fair takes on a whole new personality at night, and the teens come out to get those wild rides spinning and rolling.
There is a “free” concert at the Comcast Stage in front of the Colliseum…everyone from SUGARLOAF (country stars) to FOGHAT (classic rock!) to BRETT MICHAELS (Rock of Love TV reality show, “Every Rose has it’s thorn…”) at night. They have daytime shows too (1pm and 3pm usually) that feature Chinese Acrobats, soundalike bands and (The Hollies on the day I was there).
Time for this one to go home…BUT FIRST…
Get in line and buy two to take home.
Do not leave this fair without trying a Cream Puff!
I mean it! This is $3.50 worth of heaven.
Come to mama oh sweet nectar of the gods!
Happy Day to you all!